In the last few weeks I’ve been so super busy getting the design finished for the printed The Lotus and the Artichoke vegan cookbook, I’ve hardly had any time to get new recipes up on the website. The good news is: The cookbook is going to print this week, and I’ve got another time-tested favorite recipe inspired from my travels. This one is also in the cookbook, and it’s just too good not to share!
Along with the pineapple pancakes I recently posted, today’s dish has always been one of my favorite culinary memories of Thailand. I ate Vegetable Pad Thai at the street carts, at nice restaurants, in back alley neighborhood restaurants, and at the simple beach resort on Koh Chang. All over Bangkok you can get street food Pad Thai a dozen different ways. I always got the vegetarian stuff, which usually had tofu and vegetables, but sometimes just vegetables. For about thirty to fifty cents I’d get a steaming bowl of noodles and veg topped with sauce, crushed peanuts, and a lime slice or two. I usually dosed it with some more hot sauce and then sat down on the sidewalk somewhere to chow down.
In December 2000, I flew to Bangkok with a backpack and a few changes of clothes, a small stack of books, my first digital camera, a new state-of-the-art mini-disc player with Beatles and Red House Painters albums and some of my other favorite traveling music. I read most of my Lonely Planet – Thailand book on the plane and even slept a little with my head on the window. Soon we landed in Bangkok. It was my second trip to Asia, and I’d read so much and seen so many foreign films about the region and culture, but it still totally blew me away.
From my first day there, I started a tradition of eating pineapple pancakes for breakfast at the guesthouse in a little alley behind Khao San Road. During the day, I rode in auto-rickshaws with unscrupulous and amusing drivers, explored the temples and markets, my favorites being the giant reclining buddha at Wat Pho, and day trips to the incredible floating markets. I was also delighted to find great used bookstores on Khao San road. I actually read the first 70 pages of Alex Garland’s The Beach (which takes place in Thailand) while standing at the shelf in the bookstore before paying a few bucks for the tattered paperback and finding a café to finish the book.
This recipe for Eggplant Basil Thai Curry is based on one of my favorite dishes from the takeaway Thai counter at the family-style, super authentic, sometimes dicey Boston Chinatown Eatery. I hear it has since closed, but my artist friends and I used to hang out there all the time in the 90s when we were doing the art studio loft thing in Boston downtown, working in Fort Point’s emerging web design studios, and in the days I was running Gallery Insekt, an experimental not-for-profit artspace.
In my travels in Thailand I had many excellent similar dishes with basil and eggplant, mostly in bustling Bangkok back alleys and on the then mostly-undiscovered paradise Ko Chang island. The coconut spin is actually my doing, making this sort of a hybrid dish with more classic Thai coconut curries.
I’ve also experimented with more tomato and no coconut milk. This results in more of a stir-fry and less of a creamy coconut curry. See what works for you! If unfamiliar with salting eggplant prior to cooking, I suggest looking it up online or in any comprehensive cookbook discussing vegetable cookery. Cooks have debated endlessly on whether or not salting eggplant is necessary. I learned the trick ages ago from my mother and stand by it. Using Asian aubergine is a way around it – they naturally have a milder, less bitter flavor. If you don’t like eggplant, it can be replaced with squash or zucchini.